Driving to therapy, I’m nervous. I didn’t sleep last night, and I’m tired. I’m worried about the “discussion” Bea has planned because of the email conversation we had. I know, intellectually, that she means we will talk about it, and that’s it. I know she likes my emails, and she always encourages me to email. The word discussion, however, triggers thoughts of conversations with my parents when I had screwed up somehow; discussions that heaped guilt upon me, and were designed to ensure I never repeated that mistake again. I’m afraid I’ve screwed up, that Bea is angry I emailed her, that she has decided I am crazy, that she can’t stand me now, that I’m not okay, not good enough. So, I feel anxious, and I pick at my fingers as I drive.
When I walk into her office, I greet her as if everything is okay. I am back in dissociation land; back in the room in my head, where I can act perfect on the outside and hide away inside, not having to feel anything.
“Good morning,” Bea says. She has her phone in her lap. I know this is so she can pull up my email and we can talk about it. Crap. She waits for me to talk, taking a drink of tea, sitting calmly.
I make small talk, about the fact there was no snow on the roads by my house, and I was surprised there was snow on the roads here. Bea’s office is only a half hour at most from where I live. We chat for a few minutes, but Bea realizes what I’m doing, and she won’t let me get away with this for long.
“I was really glad to get your emails. The last one, I sat down to write back last night, and I realized it would really be better to talk in person about these things. I was so glad to see this email because I can see your thought process, trying to work these things out, make sense of it. It’s hard, and confusing. I can see how you are so close to accepting this, to seeing it wasn’t your choice.” Bea pulls my email up on her phone as she is talking, but she is mostly looking at me. She really isn’t mad about the emails, and she really does mean it– she was glad to read them.
I can’t take it though, I cover my face and pull my knees up to my chest, curling into an upright seated ball. In an instant, I go from sitting in a relaxed princess position with my legs curled under me to a traumatized little girl hiding and curling into herself.
“Do I really think you had no control over this situation?” Bea reads off one of my questions I’d written the day before. That feels like ages ago. Her voice is sad, gentle when she answers. “I really do. It’s hard for us to accept, that we could be that vulnerable, that we had no control, but I really do. It’s a hard place to be; either you were ‘bad’ or you had no control and were completely vulnerable.”
I don’t say anything. I’m crying as silently as I can. I think Bea might not realize how often I cry in therapy, because I am very, very good at crying silently.
“Do I think he hurt you on purpose? Well, I’m not sure it was really about you, exactly. I think it was more about him, and his needs. Was his kindness an act? That’s what pedophiles do, the grooming, it’s making friends with a child, making them feel special, being fun. I’m not sure it was all an act. It’s hard to say, only he knows for sure. But he was maybe very likely as confused as you were in his own way….maybe being nice was a way to make up for what he was doing, maybe he needed to make it be a game, be fun, be normal and okay to avoid guilt. It feels bad now, because if it was all an act, then the way he made you feel and the beliefs you developed about yourself due to the way he made you feel might not be true. That’s scary. It feels bad. It would be like if a child learned that a parent’s love had been an act their whole life. That’s almost too much to handle, to understand. It would destroy the child.”
I nod my head to let her know I am listening, even though I’m not talking. I understand now why she didn’t want to email, there was too much she wanted to say, to try to talk with me about. I’m afraid to open my mouth. If I wasn’t in control…..oh Lord. I can not handle this.
“I like this, here, where you write about Megan and how nine year olds think. You say she wouldn’t know to kiss someone like that unless she had been taught.” Bea waits for me to speak, but I can’t.
I’m frozen again. I don’t know what the truth is, but I’m semi stuck in part of the memory, viewing it as if I had no control, was only doing something I had been taught. I think I might throw up. I look at Bea’s wooden floor, and follow the floor to her chair, I can see her shoes. She’s wearing black lace up sneaker type shoes today. They are kind of a cross between sneakers and an ankle boot. That helps. I’m here, in Bea’s office, and she’s here, too. I’m not alone.
Bea waits a few moments, seeming to know I’m stuck somewhere. “Are you in a memory, or with the feelings? Or maybe it’s both?”
It takes me a long time to answer. Everything seems wrong. I can’t escape this. I’m crying and it’s not silent. This hurts. These feelings hurt. Thinking about it being out of my control, taught to me, that I was groomed to be this way. I’m panicked by the thought. I was an object. I can’t breathe. “Both. Feelings. Both. ” I answer the best I can. It’s both. But it’s the feelings that are killing me, they are too strong. I’m not strong enough to handle this. I can’t understand. I’m bad. I’m bad for what he made me into, or I’m bad for what I was born as. Either way. No control,or control. I want to scream. Or throw up. Maybe both.
Bea sits with me. She’s calm. I can sense her calmness, that even my anxiety, while she is empathic to it, doesn’t pull her into anxiety-crazy Alice land. She talks to me, but I have no idea what she says, just that it is kind and soothing words to let me know I’m not alone. I calm down a little bit, I can breathe again. I work on using the breathing I do in yoga, and I watch Bea’s shoes.
“You say she wouldn’t be in that situation because your brother doesn’t trust babysitters. I wonder what he knows. It’s amazing the things we know without consciously, intellectually knowing it. You know? So that’s how nine year olds think. They don’t know to kiss, or do those things. I remember being nine, and my friend in the neighborhood had older siblings, teenagers. And they had their boyfriends over, we were all playing in the sprinklers outside, and there was this sexual energy or something that we were aware of, but couldn’t name or understand yet, but I remember being quite curious about it. There were definite boundaries though, very clear boundaries that we were not part of that. You didn’t have boundaries in that situation. And he was twenty! How confusing.”
I swallow, and pray that I don’t vomit everywhere. “I don’t like this idea of no control. It is scary.” My voice sounds wobbly.
“It’s very scary.” Bea’s voice, in contrast to mine, sounds calm and slow, soothing and gentle. “How can it not be scary? Humans have a need to be in control.”
“I don’t think my brother really knows.” I keep staring at Bea’s shoes. It helps to see her, to have that reminder I am not alone.
“Maybe not consciously, no. But, really, how much do we take in that we don’t know we know?” Bea says. “And, as you said, your niece is nine, and she would never be in a situation to be taught the things you were.”
The tears are back, and I’m silent again, crying.
Bea moves on through my email. “You trusted him. Yeah. That can make it hard to trust again. But I don’t feel like you have big problems trusting. Maybe because you put it on yourself, and never realized he betrayed your trust. Do you feel like you have trouble with trusting people?”
I sigh. I don’t want to answer this. It’s hard. I trust people, on the outside, in the way I think I’m supposed to. That’s what I show the world. On the inside, if I have truly chosen to trust someone, I will second guess, panic, analyze everything, freak out, and withhold things because I don’t really deep down trust them. But I will never tell them that; all the trusted person will see is that I trust them, in the way all “normal” people trust, in the way I should trust. Ugh. How I want to explain this, but oh how I can’t ever explain it.
“I take your trust in me very seriously, and I believe it is an honor to be given that trust. I try my best to never betray or hurt that trust. I do everything in my power to do the best job I can because you deserve that, but I don’t feel like I had to work extra hard to earn your trust.” Bea tells me.
She really didn’t have to work to earn my trust once I was her client, that is true. She had already earned it in the months previous while she worked with Kat, and with me on how to help Kat and be a more emotionally there parent. The emotionally there part wasn’t something that happened until I really got into my own therapy, but foundation of trust had already been set, before I even started my own therapy with Bea. The rest of it happened as I talked and emailed and she continued to let me be in control and treat me like she had always treated me. It was always easy to see and believe that Bea really does just want to help, and that she really does love her job.
I take a deep breath in through my nose, and breathe a longer breath out through my mouth. I repeat this a few times. Calmer, I try to talk and explain. “If I really trust someone, there aren’t many someones, I might second guess everything, have anxiety about them, and overthink things about the relationship. But if that was the case, I would never admit that to that person or anyone else. I would just act like I trusted them like normal, like it was okay.” I can’t believe I just said that.
“That would make you vulnerable, to admit those things,” Bea says. I wonder if she realizes now exactly how screwed up my head is. I know she is aware I am a great pretender, but I wonder if she is seeing, yet again, just how perfectly perfect my facade is. Maybe she realizes how much anxiety I have every time I tell her something, every time I ask her something and don’t know the answer before hand, how much anxiety I have emailing and waiting a response. In general, the two people I trust most in this world are hubby and Bea. They are also the two people in this world who give me the most anxiety.
“Right.” I say. I can’t be vulnerable. That’s not okay. I think of something then, and I try to say it, but I can’t. “Even after..”
“Even after? What?” Bea asks me.
I try again. “Even after….” I just can’t. I can’t articulate the words out loud.
“There’s that amazing filter again,” she says, a smile in her voice.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could just say things out loud.” I sigh. I really do wish I could. It’s so hard to be stuck being afraid to say things, or ask things.
“Maybe that has to do with the trust issue,” Bea tells me, “Okay, I’m left to filling in the blank. Even after you knew that what was happening was sexual, and it was over, you framed it as a game and as fun, and remembered him as a friend and a good person in your life.” (I may not have this exactly right and I’m sure I don’t because her fill in the blank made me ‘go away’ and so I was quite dissociated when she said it, and I didn’t write it down right away.)
I’m silent for a minute, dissociated. I don’t like what she has said. Finally, I say, “That’s not it, but it’s not wrong or untrue.”
Bea is quite for a minute. Maybe she is trying to decide if she should pursue her fill in the blank, or push me to fill it in. “Maybe this is something you can email to me, if you like, then.”
I nod, okay, maybe. The world has gone blurry, and I’m far away, floaty in my head. It’s nice like this though, life feels safer.
“I was just looking at your sweater and thinking about the black and white issue. Maybe we need to give you some black and white paint so you can just swirl them together while we talk and make gray.”
I think I’ve missed some of the conversation, again. Oops. Well, my sweater is white with black stripes. “Maybe. Okay.” I agree. It seems silly, and I feel silly, but a part of me feels hopeful, too.
“This black and white thinking, I see it all the time with the traumatized kids I work with. They are either the evil wicked witch or the nice perfect princess. They can’t be both. That’s why I got those test tubes.” She is referring to these giant plastic test tubes she got a few weeks ago. Kat has really loved playing with them, mixing colors, dumping water, putting small toys into them. “I got them so the kids can mix colors. I have the colors represent the good and bad, or different emotions, and we mix them, make potions. It helps to see things, to see them being mixed. Because the truth is, we aren’t all good or all bad. We are both. It’s the nature of being human. We are all the wicked witch and the perfect princess.”
“Why do the kids get stuck thinking like that– black or white?” I ask.
“Well, in psychological terms it’s called splitting. It’s a defense mechanism. Maybe it’s more easily understood, if we look at it in the sense that you really want and need to be good. I imagine the bad things you feel you have done are unbearable to think of as part of you. They don’t fit in with the self concept you want to have– nice, good, moral.” Bea picks up her tea, takes a drink.
I’m crying, again, because she has pegged it so throughly. I can’t bear the fact that I’m bad, and evil, wrong, dirty, sad, angry, and gross. I want so much to be good and kind, pretty, and nice, moral and perfect, smart, sweet, happy, and helpful. I work very hard to have the good me, the fake me, be what I show the world. “Yeah. That’s it.” I sniffle.
“The ‘bad’ part of you is just that- a part. You are still good, that part still exists, too. We are both. You need to have some compassion for the little girl, that ‘bad’ part.”
I shake my head. “I can’t. Not for me. I can do it for others.” For other people, I can excuse a lot. I can always see good in them, even when not many people can. I’ve always liked people who are described as difficult, or the ones who no one wants to deal with. Those were some of the clients I had when I worked. I loved them, because I could always see the good.
“That’s why I told you that story about me when I was nine,” Bea says. (She is referring to a story she shared with me last session. I didn’t write it because I don’t feel it’s mine to share.) “You had plenty of empathy and compassion for me, you wanted to comfort me. Can you remember what that felt like? Can you turn that feeling inward, for yourself?”
I shake my head. I just can’t. It’s not something I can do.
“I read somewhere, that we should ask ourselves how we would treat a friend in our situation, and that’s how we should treat ourselves. I don’t follow that advice very often, but when I have, it feels good. Self compassion is good.” I love how honest Bea is; that she admits to not following her own advice. I love that she is human, and not trying to be perfect.
I feel like I would feel selfish if I did that. I don’t know. I think about it. If I pretend that a friend is in my situation, I can come up with reasons why it’s okay for them, why they are exempt and I am not. I can’t do this.
“Do you have a space for yourself, just for you? You talk about hiding, I think creating a space for yourself could be a way to show compassion. A safe space to hide, a space with some of your special things.”
“Well, I have the swing that hubby moved indoors for me.” At the end of September, when it started to get cold, and I wouldn’t be able to sit in the deck anymore, Hubby moved the porch swing inside for me, and turned it into a tent fort with sheets. He put the deck chair cushions on the swing to make it more comfy and moved a little table in by the swing, adding paper, pens, art supplies, journals, silly putty, lotion, mints, sour candies, and lavender. He had turned it into a safe hiding space for me.
“That’s right, I do remember when he did that. Do you use the swing when you feel like you need to hide?”
“Sometimes. Kat kinda took it over.” I shrug.
“That’s a problem when you are a mom. Kids take things over. Even now, my kids are home for the holidays and they have taken over the whole house, expecting me to do things for them they can do for themselves. And it’s like, didn’t I teach you good boundaries? You have to set boundaries in place, it’s okay to say this is just for mommy, or this belongs to mommy. Otherwise you will end up resenting your child.” I’m thankful Bea is a mom, and gets this.
“Hubby got me a yoga mat for Christmas.”
“Do you have to bring your own mat to yoga, or have you been doing yoga at home?” Bea asks.
“I sometimes do it at home, I try to. They have mats there, so this is just for me, for home.” I love yoga. I’m so glad Bea kept telling me to go, to try it. I’m even more glad I found a yoga teacher who is trauma informed and does private classes.
“That’s great, that’s something for you.”
We talk a few more minutes about self care and self compassion, but I mostly still feel it’s selfish for me. Not for others, but for me. I’m undeserving. I don’t know why. It’s one of my best kept secrets; how much I really despise myself.
To be continued, as I had a crazy long 2 hour session….